Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Scotch Whisky Review: McClelland's Single Malt Islay
Tonight's dram is another of the McClelland's lineup of budget-priced malts -- this time, the Islay version. This leaves only the Lowland version to taste.
In the glass, this is a dark orange-gold, and clearly young -- the legs are short and brisk, but it lacks that oily, waxy texture.
On the nose, there is a goodly blast of peat smoke -- very medicinal, like Listerine, and just a little bit of sweet vanilla and malt, with a little iodine and salt -- it is hard to detect much else. The McClelland's site says "citrus," and I guess I can conjure a little orange peel.
In the mouth it is more promising. There's an initial caramel, maple (that is, Sherry-like) sweetness, with a little vanilla and honey. It's drying, but not exceedingly hot, with a lingering phenolic finish. The finish doesn't have the complexity and the "waves" of sweetness and peat that Laphroaig or Lagavulin has. It is pleasant, but doesn't really tantalize the tongue. It makes me crave a Caol Ila 12. There is something just slightly off-putting in the finish -- an undertone of bitterness, maybe, like a 90% dark chocolate -- that does not harmonize, and is not enjoyable. A reviewer I found called it "astringent," "green," and "raw." Another called it "grappa," and although I like grappa, a scotch whisky should not be reminiscent of a pungent liquor made of grape skins. My wife made similar comments -- that it tastes too much like moonshine.
With a little water, it sweetens slightly -- the smoke flavors become a little bit more subtle, and the vanilla (from oak aging) becomes more predominant. I'd say it is a little better wet, although not dramatically so.
It appears I may have mistakenly thought that the McClelland's Speyside was a 5-year old Bowmore. It seems that this one may be the Bowmore. The word is that the 8-year-old Bowmore "Legend" is better. Maybe I'll get the chance to compare them at some point.
Overall, where the Speyside was intriguing and complex, this one is too basic to really qualify as excellent. A few more years in the cask would probably make a world of difference. I rate this one only a 6, which is the lowest rating I've given out so far. As my wife says "there are things I like about it, but the things I like the most about scotch whisky aren't in it."
We're both unenthusiastic about finishing our glasses. This is the first whisky where I've actually poured the last of my glass into the sink, and so I can't really recommend it, even at the budget price point. Grace is going to try to figure out if it will work to soak some kind of cake. It's also the first single malt scotch I'd be willing to mix into a cocktail (McClelland's provides a recipe for a drink they call an Islay Smokestack that sounds tasty). I'd review that but we are missing some of the ingredients. Perhaps another time!
UPDATE: having tasted this a couple more times, I'm removing my rating altogether and just putting it in the category of "Avoid." Although the initial nose and flavor is still pleasant, that bitter, metallic after-taste follows you around, like chewing on foil, and it actually upsets my stomach. It almost seems similar to Pine Mouth. I'd almost believe that this was contaminated with something, but a more likely explanation is just that too much of the "tail" from the still was used and it contains some of the nasty compounds known as Fusel Alcohols.